personal project

My Only Hobby Is Being Petty

Animation: Stevie Remsberg; Source Video Getty

Personal Project is a week about hobbies and digging into our hidden talents.

I’m lucky to be healthy and stuck at home taking care of my kids. Still, there are moments when the anxiety of living in such extreme and worsening circumstances threatens to overtake me and I need some form of escape that won’t leave me too incapacitated to make it through to bedtime. I don’t have time to jog or bake or do yoga.

However, I did recently find a few minutes to frantically text friends about a distant acquaintance who just left her hot, broke husband for a rich, successful artist. I felt more alive and energetic than I had in days.

Or, well, more alive than I had since the last time I’d been embroiled in a barrage of texts passing judgment on the life choices of someone I barely know, which was probably a few hours earlier. A tone-deaf post about a financial windfall on social media? Someone’s still getting their kids taken care of by a full-time nanny despite their work not being “essential” by any possible definition? I’m on it and being as scathing as possible. To save time, I cut and paste or screenshot texts and send them to my other text thread that’s ripping the same poor saps to shreds. I’m definitely not alone in doing this — it takes two to gossip — but am I maybe doing more than my fair share? Well, yes. I am in the dictionary under “lashon hara.” It’s not good — I mean, it’s obviously not good. But it is human, and it reminds me of normal life. And it’s not really hurting anyone? Or so I tell myself.

This attraction to the backchannel has gotten me through tough times before, such as “all of high school.” I used to keep a notebook in which my friends and I described the foibles of our classmates. Authorities routinely confiscated it — I don’t know why we never figured out that we ought to be using code, especially when writing about said authorities. We bonded tightly by slamming our teachers and more popular peers, and I honed the powers of observation that I would later use for non-nefarious — or at least not always nefarious — purposes.

These endless days, when my friends and I can’t be together to talk shit or support each other, it’s an even more important way of feeling close. I think of them getting a text with a little kernel of delicious, salty intel and getting a lift of adrenaline that will get them through their intense days. It makes me smile and come dangerously close to the tears that I know are coming eventually. It feels good to laugh about the low-stakes drama of semi-strangers; I know my friends like being able to give me a dose of the same delightful poison. The time to scale it back and retract my claws will come eventually; no coping mechanism works forever. But for now, that moment of smooth-brained peace I get as I scroll through my contacts thinking about who would be the ideal audience for the latest tidbit is the closest I get to the meditative peace that I hear is also attainable via, you know, meditating.

My Only Hobby Is Being Petty